A friend alerted me to John McWhorter’s delightful essay “English is not normal” over at Aeon. Here’s how it begins:
English speakers know that their language is odd. So do people saddled with learning it non-natively. The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a ‘spelling bee’ competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.
You’ve heard it all before, I’m sure. The thing is, though, McWhorter goes on to explain why. So do yourself a favor and read the entire piece. And if you find this sort of thing fascinating (as, of course, you should), check out Kevin Stroud’s History of English Podcast.